Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Power and Presence

Genesis 39:1-23
Shawshank Redemption is one of the top movies on my list of go to movies.  Andy Dufresne was a banker who was accused of murdering his wife.  Sent to Shawshank prison he maintained that he was innocent.  In once scene Andy goes into the wardens office and begins to play Mozart on a record player.  Then he locks the doors and plays it over the PA system so that all the inmates could hear the glorious voices of the singers and for one fleeting moment taste freedom.

Of course this act of defiance and beauty lands Andy in solitary confinement.  When he finally made it out he sat with his friends who asked how he made it through.  He said he had Mozart, Mozart was in his heart and his mind when he, all bloodied and pale, laid on the dark and cold floor of solitary.  Mozart got him through this time.  

When someone or something is in your head and your heart while in the deepest crevices of your life then you are offered a chance of survival.  No one can take that away from you.  Andy depended on hearing the music in his heart.  Mozart was with him.

In the past two weeks we learned that Noah was heir to the covenant of God, that Abram in his effort to move to parts unknown received God’s blessing and today we will come to understand the abiding presence of God through the story of Joseph, great grandson of Abraham, a man named Potipher, and his not so charming, opportunistic wife.

These are stories of intrigue, deception, conspiracy, steadfastness, and the human condition.  These stories are about how God seeks to be present and accounted for in all circumstances of life.

Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands.

So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her.
One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”

Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”

When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.
 Image by Brian Spahr
Joseph!  What next?  What more could possibly happen to Joseph the favored son of Jacob?  Prior to this scene we see him hated by his brothers because he dreamt dreams of power and authority, and he had been given a very pretty colored coat to boot, they take it upon their jealous hearts to toss him into a pit.  But then, rather than let him die in the pit the sell him to the Ishmaelite who transport him to Egypt.  He was then sold to Potipher, an official of Pharaoh.  Human trafficking is as old as the hills; it’s one of the lower points in this human tragedy of Joseph which spirals even lower.

Yet Joseph was a good man and he does well so Potipher appoints him over his entire household.  Joseph had equal rights with regard to household authority even over Potipher’s wife, but he had no rights to her body, and he knew that.  She, of course, knew it too yet she actively pursued him.  And when Joseph wouldn’t capitulate she accused him of rape. 

So Joseph’s rise to power didn’t last that long before he descended back into the pit of despair once again and was jailed, falsely accused.  The difference between Joseph and others in jail is that Joseph had integrity, he says no and pays the price.   And the text says the Lord was with him.  The Lord was with him when he prospered and the Lord was with him in his prison cell.  The Lord was always with him.  Like Andy Dufrense with Mozart in his heart and mind, the Lord was with Joseph too in his heart and his mind.

God’s story is one that is not only a story about people thousands of years ago but it’s about us too.

God does not guarantee our safety, our health, but we do see that God is with us in the high and lows, the ambiguities and complexities of our lives, the places of imprisonment that you can’t crawl out of.  God’s presence is not a quick fix for all that ails you, it is not the miracle elixir that will cure your pain or take it away but it can give you great measure of comfort to know that you are not alone in any of the circumstances of your life. 

“The Lord was with Joseph” is a refrain that echoes throughout this passage, and that is our refrain too.  When you can’t see the light because the bills have piled up so high in front of the windows, the Lord is with you.  When depression threatens to take you way low, the Lord is with you.  When relationships go sour and aloneness prevails, the Lord is with you.  Always and forever, the Lord is with you.

We know that Joseph’s story doesn’t end in prison.  This dreamer and interpreter of dreams of extraordinary measure find favor once again in Pharaoh’s eyes. His patience is rewarded and he prospers.  He is reunited and reconciled with his family.  And God was with him throughout all of his life. 

May the covenantal God of Noah, the God of rainbow blessing to Abraham, and Joseph’s God of promise and presence be active in your life.

May the Lord be with you……………..And also with you!


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